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Treating COPD With Medication

Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

Medications don't cure COPD, but they do help keep it under control. This chart will help you learn more about the medications used to manage COPD.

It's important to know the names of the medications you're prescribed and how they work. Be sure to take them as directed by your doctor. 

Types of Medications

How They Work

Examples of Medications

Possible Side Effects and Special Precautions

Bronchodilators

Fast-acting beta-2 agonists

  • Relax and open airways

  • Increase movement of cilia to help clear mucus

  • Help prevent exercise-induced wheezing

  • Help stop attacks

Inhaled:

HCI (Xopenex HFA); metaproterenol sulfate; terbutaline sulfate

albuterol sulfate (Ventolin HFA, Proventil HFA); levalbuterol

Trembling, nervousness, insomnia, fast heartbeat, or increased blood pressure. Should be taken before other bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids.

Long-acting beta-2 agonists

  • Relax and open airways

  • Take effect more slowly and work longer than fast-acting beta-2 agonists

  • Increase movement of cilia to help clear mucus

  • Help prevent exercise-induced wheezing

Inhaled: formoterol fumarate (Foradil); salmeterol xinafoate (Serevent)

Fast heartbeat, headache, nervousness, or trembling. Do not use for quick relief. Do not take more often than prescribed.

Anticholinergics

  • Relax and open airways

  • Take effect more slowly than fast-acting beta-2 agonists

Inhaled: ipratropium bromide (Atrovent HFA); tiotropium bromide (Spiriva)

Nervousness, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, upset stomach, constipation, or dry mouth.

Methylxanthines

  • Stimulate the diaphragm and breathing

  • May be useful if symptoms occur during sleep

  • Are long-acting

Swallowed: theophylline (Elixophyllin, Theolair, Theochron, Theo-24)

Headache, nervousness, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, or nausea. Can interact with other medications. Blood levels must be monitored regularly. Limit caffeine intake.

Corticosteroids (These are not the same as the anabolic steroids used by some bodybuilders.)

Inhaled:

  • Reduce inflammation and swelling in airways

  • Reduce mucus production

  • Decrease sensitivity of airways to irritants and allergens

Swallowed:

  • Reduce inflammation and swelling in airways

  • Reduce mucus production

  • Decrease sensitivity of airways to irritants and allergens

Inhaled: beclomethasone dipropionate (QVAR); budesonide (Pulmicort); llunisolide (Areospan HFA); fluticasone propionate (Flovent HFA)

Swallowed: methylprednisolone (Medrol); prednisone (many brand names)

Inhaled: Very little enters bloodstream, so few side effects. Do not use for fast relief of shortness of breath. Must be used every day; rinse mouth and spit after use. Long-term use may suppress immune system. Do not stop using without consulting your doctor. High doses must be tapered, not stopped abruptly.

Swallowed: Enter bloodstream, so may cause insomnia, mood changes, skin bruising, weight gain, stomach problems, high blood pressure, glaucoma, cataracts, osteoporosis, or high blood sugar. Long-term use may suppress immune system. Do not stop using without consulting your doctor. High doses must be tapered, not stopped abruptly.

Selective phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors

  • Suppress an enzyme that can cause inflammation in the airways

  • Prevent worsening of COPD in people with severe COPD and chronic bronchitis

Swallowed: roflumilast (Daliresp)

Should not be used to treat sudden breathing problems. Diarrhea, weight loss, stomach pain, nausea, diminished appetite, headache, or dizziness may occur. Report any new or worsening symptoms to your doctor, such as mood or behavior changes, trouble sleeping, or if you feel impulsive or have disturbing thoughts.

Combination medications

  • Combine effects of different types of medication

Inhaled: fluticasone propionate plus salmeterol xinafoate (Advair); budesonide plus formoterol fumarate (Symbicort); ipratropium bromide plus albuterol sulfate (Combivent)

Varies depending on medication. Does not replace rescue inhaler. Talk with your health care provider.

Note: This table is not a complete list of COPD medications and does not imply endorsement of any type or brand. It also does not include all actions, adverse reactions, precautions, side effects, or interactions for these medications. Only your health care provider can prescribe these medications. Talk with your health care provider or pharmacist about the possible side effects and drug or food interactions of any medication you use.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Healthgrades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Reference: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration section on Better Medicine


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Did You Know?

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COPD is a disease that gets worse with time.